Nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.

1 Timothy 6:17

I think a lot of people in our congregations get confused when some learned brother advises us that we must all join in a fervent fight against “materialism.”

If men and women do not know what materialism is, how can they be expected to join the battle?

Materialism in its crisis form occurs when men and women created in the image of God accept and look upon matter as “the ultimate”—the only reality.

The advice, “We must fight materialism,” does not mean that everyone should get a sword and run after a fellow named Material and cut him down.

What it does mean is that we should start believing in the fact of God’s Creation and that matter is only a creature of the all-wise and ever-loving God! The believer is not deceived into believing that the physical things we know and enjoy are the ultimate end in themselves.

Dear Lord, You are the reality that so many people today fail to see. Make me more sensitive to Your spiritual realm all around me.[1]

6:17 Paul spoke earlier at length about those who desired to be rich. Here he deals with those who are already rich. Timothy should command them not to be haughty. This is a temptation to the wealthy. They are apt to look down on those who do not have a great deal of money as being uncouth, uncultured, and not very clever. This, of course, is not necessarily true. Great riches are not a sign of God’s blessing in the NT, as they were in the OT. Whereas wealth was a token of divine favor under the law, the great blessing of the new dispensation is affliction.

The rich should not trust in, literally, “the uncertainty of riches.” Money has a way of sprouting wings and flying away. Whereas great resources give the appearance of providing security, the fact is that the only sure thing in this world is the word of God.

Therefore, the rich are exhorted to trust in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. One of the great snares of riches is that it is difficult to have them without trusting in them. Yet this is really a form of idolatry. It is a denial of the truth that God is the One who gives us richly all things to enjoy. This latter statement does not condone luxurious living, but simply states that God is the Source of true enjoyment, and material things cannot produce this.[2]

  1. Truly, believers are rich in terms of the age to come, that age which will be ushered in by Christ’s glorious epiphany! What a contrast between them and those who are rich only in terms of this present age. Let wealthy church-members beware lest the word “only” should apply to them! Paul does not say that their wealth is limited to this earthly sphere, but he warns them. Says he:

As for those (who are) rich in terms of this present age, charge them not to be high-minded, nor to have their hope set on (the) uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything for (our) enjoyment.

Not those who are eager to become rich, as in verse 9, are here addressed, but those who are actually rich. By immediately adding, “in terms of this present age” (an expression used only here and in 2 Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:12), the apostle is already beginning to fix the mind of the reader and hearer upon the transitory character of earthly wealth. He means, “this present era which will soon be past.” Timothy, then, must tell these people: (a) what should not be their attitude (verse 17a); and (b) what should be their attitude (verses 17b, 18, 19).

As to a., they must not be high-minded but humble (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12); and they must not have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, that is, on their riches, which, as a matter of fact, are very uncertain. Rich church-members, then, must be neither snobbish nor smug.

As to b., they should have their hope fixed on God (this is the best reading; better than, “on the living God”). This God is ever true to his promise. He is the God of love. He richly provides. Note play on words: “As for those (who are) rich, charge them … not to have their hope set on … riches, but on God, who richly provides.” Not only is God rich (Ps. 50:10–12), so that with him wishing and having are one and the same, but he ever gives “according to his riches” (Eph. 1:7; cf. Titus 3:6), not only “of his riches.” For God’s munificence, by virtue of which he provides us with all things necessary both for body and soul, for time and eternity, see also Acts 14:17; James 1:17; and innumerable passages in the Psalter, such as 37:25; 68:19; 81:16b; and see Psalms 103, 104, 107, 111, 116, 145, etc. Moreover, all these things are given to us in order that we may not only “partake of” them (1 Tim. 4:3), but may also enjoy them. When we sing, God sings along with us (Zeph. 3:17).[3]

The Danger to Avoid

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. (6:17)

The first danger facing those who are rich is that they will become conceited. Conceited is from hupsēlophroneō, a compound verb meaning “to think lofty,” “be haughty,” or “have an exalted opinion of oneself.” Looking down on those lower on the economic ladder is a distressing trait of fallen human nature. Rich people are constantly faced with the temptation to put on airs of superiority. Riches and pride are frequently found together, and the wealthier an individual is, the greater the temptation. It is exceedingly difficult to be wealthy and have a humble spirit. The temptation is to view others as mere servants, since wealthy people tend to hire others to do everything for them. Proverbs 18:23 describes what often transpires: “The poor man utters supplications, but the rich man answers roughly.” That happens because “the rich man is wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 28:11).

The opposite of being conceited is having “humility of mind” (Phil. 2:3). That virtue was scorned by the haughty Greek culture, with its glorification of pride. Paul wants the rich in the Ephesian assembly to avoid that cultural iniquity and be humble.

Ezekiel 28:1–5 illustrates one who fell prey to pride due to his wealth:

The word of the Lord came again to me saying, “Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “because your heart is lifted up and you have said,” ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods, in the heart of the seas’; yet you are a man and not God, although you make your heart like the heart of God—behold, you are wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that is a match for you. By your wisdom and understanding you have acquired riches for yourself, and have acquired gold and silver for your treasuries. By your great wisdom, by your trade you have increased your riches, and your heart is lifted up because of your riches.””’

James warns against such an attitude in the church:

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? (2:1–4)

A second danger facing the rich is the temptation to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches. To base their hope on the uncertainty of riches, instead of God, is foolish. Proverbs 11:28 warns that “he who trusts in his riches will fall.” Proverbs 23:4–5 adds, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.” Once again, this is especially a temptation for the rich. Those who have a lot tend to trust in it, while those who have little can’t trust in what they have, and so are more likely to turn to God in hope that He will supply.

In the parable of the rich fool, the Lord Jesus Christ warned of the foolishness of trusting riches (Luke 12:16–21):

And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a certain rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ ” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Rather than trusting in riches, believers are to fix their hope on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. God provides far more security than any earthly investment. Psalm 50:10–12 describes His incalculable wealth: “Every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all it contains.” God is not stingy; He richly supplies His children with all things to enjoy. Ecclesiastes 5:18–20reads,

Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.

The highest form of joy for the believer is to bring glory to the Lord. True gladness, then, comes when believers give heed to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19–21:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.[4]

17 Almost as an afterthought (note the preceding benediction), the apostle adds a closing “command” (on parangellō, see comments at v. 13) for “those who are rich in this present world” (cf. 2 Ti 4:10; Tit 2:12), which may refer to people who do not have to work for a living. Earlier in ch. 6, Paul elaborated the benefits of “contentment”in contrast to the false teachers’ desire to “get rich,” warning against the “love of money” (vv. 6–10).

While this previous section was addressed primarily to the poor, Paul now counsels Timothy directly on how to deal with wealthy people in the Ephesian congregation. There is evidence of a sizable contingent of well-to-do believers under Timothy’s charge (cf. 2:9; 5:13). At the same time, there were slaves (6:1–2), widows in need (5:3–16), and people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. Paul’s primary concern is that such people not succumb to the sin of arrogance (hypsēlophroneō, GK 5735, “be arrogant”; cf. Ro 11:20: hypsēla phronei) and place their confidence in material things. It is wrong to base one’s self-worth on one’s possessions. Also, wealth is an “uncertain” (adēlotēs, GK 84, occurring only here in the NT) object of trust. As Paul wrote earlier in ch. 6, “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (v. 7). In the seven letters of Revelation, the risen Christ excoriates the church of Laodicea for claiming to be rich while really being poor (Rev 3:17–18).

Positively, rich believers are to “put their hope in God,” who “richly [plousiōs, GK 4455, a wordplay] provides”the entire Christian community (cf. 2 Ti 1:7, 9, 14) with “everything [lit., all things] for our enjoyment [apolausis, GK 656; with a negative connotation in Heb 11:25].” Gratitude rather than conceit is the proper response to material blessings from the Lord.[5]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2102–2103). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, pp. 209–210). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (pp. 279–281). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Köstenberger, A. (2006). 1 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 558). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s